In footnote C of Matt. 5:44 the word bless is cross referenced with retribution.
In the Bible Dictionary, “punishment” is “righteous retribution” executed for the purpose of extirpating sinners from Israel. This means that “righteous retribution” is punitive and not rehabilitative. To use punishment to “reform” or as a requirement for repentance is unrighteous. “Righteous retribution” is not restitution. The purpose of punishment was neither to restore sinners to good standing in society nor to save them from their sins. Punishment destroys sinners. Does this footnote imply that Christ is advocating His Saints destroy sinners and not save them (Luke 9:56)? Does this mean that punishing enemies is the same as blessing and loving them? Is it a blessing because one feels regret and remorse when sending one’s enemies straight to hell like Moroni did in Alma 48:23? Did Moroni’s enemies interpret their destruction as a blessing?
Or is this blessing in Matthew the one that neither reviles nor punishes, leaving retribution to the One who is righteous at His coming (as stated in Matt. 16:27)? Did Christ refuse to stone the adulteress because He was subject to Roman law or because He came to save sinners and not destroy them? And does the Lord punish or does He withdraw His protection allowing the wicked to destroy the wicked (1 Sam 8:18 cf. Mormon 4:5)? Since the righteous do not believe in free agency, only moral agency, does this mean that wickedness prevails in the world, not because God permitted man full scope in the use of agency, even to the filling of one’s flagon of iniquity to overflowing, but because the righteous are apathetic in their failure to destroy the wicked? Is retribution a blessing to the victim who can only find peace of mind in satisfaction than in forgiveness? If Jesus had anything to say about blessing enemies and retaliating against them, it was that they are not synonymous. Instead, Jesus taught the disciple to repay evil with good and failure to do so would bring destruction.
The history of the Israelites is instructive as it parallels the history of the Nephites, a people relatively more righteous than the Israelites, but of whom the Lord called “a fallen people” (D&C 20:9 cf. D&C 38:39 cf. Moro. 8:27). The Israelites and Nephites are left to their own abilities for deliverance, the Lord having mercy upon them only because of the covenant made with their fathers and not as a result of their righteousness. Instead of zealously defending liberty, Christ teaches both those in America and in the Levant to have patience and to repent (Luke 6:9, 9:56; James 4:12). Christ teaches the Christians to not resist evil, but to give the wicked that which they desire (Matt. 5:39-48)–to render unto Caesar and honor unto whom honor is due. The history of the Nephites demonstrates failure to abide by gospel principles in their defensive wars, zeal for liberty and live-let-live-mentality (Alma 61:10-11), though not nearly so much failure as does the history of the Israelites in their desire to appoint a king, engage in offensive warfare and genocide.
The Israelites received the Law of Moses, as a curse, because they are neither patient nor forgiving enough to receive the Law of the Gospel (JST Deut. 10:2). The Lord did not desire war for entry into Canaan. He led the Israelites through the wilderness for 38 years to carry out two goals: 1) To avert war (Exo. 15:3; Ps. 46:9; Ps. 68:30) and 2) To allow the warlike among the Israelites to die off (Deut. 2:14-15). The Lord outlined His plan for Israelite entry into Canaan in Exodus 23:27-33: 1) Heathen driven out gradually by plagues and 2) Israelites migrate gradually over time. The Israelites were too impatient and conspiracies arose among the Israelites (Deut. 31-32). They send spies in and commit genocide. After winning in Canaan, Moses reminds the Israelites that their victory was not the result of their righteousness, but of the covenant the Lord made with their fathers. He tells them that the Lord permitted them to destroy the heathen because the wickedness of the heathen was greater, not because the Israelites were righteous (Deut. 9:5-6). The Israelite leaders conspire against the masses and set up a king against the prophet Samuel’s counsel (1 Samuel 8). Those who resist the House of David and Solomon’s taxes (1 Kings 12) secede to become the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel’s zeal for liberty results in the defeat, capture and scattering of the northern ten tribes. In any event, the zealous defense of liberty demonstrates its wickedness every time it snubs the principle of Christian conduct outlined in Zech. 4:6. In time, a warlike people are destroyed if they refuse to subject themselves to their enemies. The Kingdom of Judah is warned that should they resist Babylon, they will be destroyed (Jeremiah 27:4-11 cf. D&C 63:25-35) just as the Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed for failure to subject itself to the heavy taxation imposed by the House of David.
As an overview of Nephite history, we can begin in Alma 16 after the Ammonihahites are destroyed. We know that they were destroyed because of their wickedness. It is called a Desolation of Nehors and while Zoram is successful pushing the Lamanites out of the land, we know that his people were corrupted by war. They kill Korihor in Chapter 30. Receiving guidance from the Lord to drive the Lamanites out of the land may have been more the result of the Lord’s covenant with the Nephites than a result of their righteousness. That the next eleven chapters are dedicated to the missionary effort undertaken to reclaim the Nephites spiritually and to convert the Lamanites may be evidence that war was the result of wickedness and that deliverance was the result of covenant (not righteousness). After Zoram’s victory, we do not hear much of war again until the conversion of the Ammonites, who “would suffer death in the most aggravating and distressing manner which could be inflicted by their brethren” than to “take the sword to smite them.” The Ammonites were not zealous for liberty, but in their love for others. They are “highly favored of the Lord.” Instead of waging war against the Zoramites, Alma Jr. wields the sword of the spirit in verse 5 of chapter 31. While he is successful among some, the effects of war are too great to overcome in others and the Zoramites join the Lamanites. The missionary effort continues through to chapter 43.
The Lamanites come to war against the Nephites. Guidance is given for the defense of the Ammonites, who live in the land of Jershon near where the Lamanites “might” attack. Once the Lamanites are pushed out after a tremendous battle, the missionary effort to spiritually reclaim the Nephites and to convert the Lamanites is undertaken beginning in Chapter 62. This demonstrates a cycle. War proceeds the fall and missionary work precedes righteousness. The harder Moroni defends liberty, the more ferocious the Lamanites become and the more dissensions occur among the Nephites. Alma Jr. prophesies of the eventual destruction of the Nephites and is translated. Alma 45:21 states that because of war with the Lamanites, it became “expedient” that the word of God be preached among the Nephites. War is corrupting the Nephites. Captain Moroni is angry with Pahoran because of his patience (read: tolerance and indifference toward sinners). Captain Moroni makes mistakes by misjudging the character of Pahoran (Pahoran demonstrates great reserve and, despite Moroni’s failure to apologize, forgives the threats and misguided allegations against him), by threatening a coup d’état of the Nephite’s democratically elected government (similar to the king-men who sought the same, but for a different outcome), by waging war on the mistaken belief that the Lamanites sought to destroy the Nephites (Alma 43:10-12, 29), by playing devil’s advocate and inciting the immoralities of drunkenness, lying and deception to gain an advantage over his enemies (Chapter 55), for poisoning prisoners of war and for having taken a different course than did Alma the Elder when faced with similar circumstances (Mosiah 23). Moroni’s war cost many lives. The Ammonites are neither preserved nor protected in their lands, but must flee (Chapter 35).
All this begs the question: Is it fair to judge Captain Moroni (a tribalist who lived by Mosaic standards) by modern and gospel standards? As one who probably drank wine and who advocated insurrection against constituted authority, could we say that Capt. Moroni would qualify for a temple recommend by today’s church standards? Capt. Moroni’s righteousness is relative to that of the Nephites (Alma 37:10; 50:21, 62:41), the Lamanites, the Levitical Priesthood and the Law of Moses, not necessarily to that of the gospel, the Melchizedek Priesthood and of Christ (Moroni 7:36-38; Alma 61:14; Jacob 7:25; Helaman 5). Capt. Moroni’s righteousness was relative to his day and it is clear that greater righteousness would be required at a future, latter-day date. To have the power of the Holy Priesthood, and not authority only, one must devote himself wholly, as Alma Jr. had done (Alma 4:4-20), to the proclamation of the gospel (D&C 98:16 – Renounce war, proclaim the Gospel of Peace). While Mormon speaks highly of Moroni, this is expected as a fellow commander in the Nephite armies. Mormon’s admiration of Captain Moroni is further shown by the fact that he names his son Moroni.
Unlike Alma the Elder who lost no life, maintained the faithfulness of the church, and was delivered from bondage by miracle, Moroni is left to his own desires, power, and means to deliver the Nephites from destruction (Chapters 50 and 60). In Chapter 54 we learn that the Lamanites desired to take the Nephites into servitude than to destroy the Nephites. Had Moroni followed the admonition of Jeremiah 27:4-11, and the example of Alma the Elder (which are not very different approaches than those revealed in D&C 63:25-37 cf. Alma 48:15 cf. Alma 26:26-27), the Nephites might not have become more wicked than the Lamanites or lost soo much life as to cause their women to mourn the loss of their sons and husbands. Moroni was neither chief judge nor king. There is no mention that he was at any time called of God to be a prophet. While he received guidance through Alma Jr. that the Lamanites “might” attack (Alma 43:24), we learn from the history of Alma the Elder and Limhi that the Lamanites were capable of having great “compassion” upon those who did not resist them (Mosiah 20:26 cf. 23:27-29). Moroni was a military captain appointed by a government he believed to be conspiring against him. He was a mighty man seeking justice, but he was no hypocrite. He did justly and was willing to suffer the punishments of the law were he to violate the law as its enforcer (Alma 46:20-22).
The Nephites and Israelites believed the best way to resist temptation was to destroy the opposition, but it would seem that where there is no temptation, there is no real righteousness. Christ calls the Saint to patience with sinners while cultivating one’s enmity toward sin (Eph. 6:12). Indeed, a higher spiritual capacity would be required to live the Law of the Gospel than was required to live the Law of Moses. Like Christ said to the rich ruler, personal worthiness would not be enough. To be a disciple, one would also facilitate the social salvation of sinners for the purpose of repentance. The Pharisees rent their garments and accused Jesus of destroying the Law of Moses because He proclaimed the Law of the Gospel. Like Jeremiah before Him (cf. Jer. 3 and 27), the Pharisees had accused Christ of blasphemy and treason. “Resist not evil? (cf. Matt. 5:39 cf. Luke 21:15 cf. Acts 6:10 cf. Matt. 12:41-42). But this is our right and our inheritance as the people of the Lord! (cf. Isa. 54:17).”
Does Moroni rend his garments in an attitude of humility and sorrow or in wrath and anger? Is Moroni’s rending of his garments a personal witness against the wickedness of the Nephites? Is it an acknowledgment of his inability to save the Nephites through repentance or his own lack of spirituality and of desire to become a servant of the Lord like Nephi and Lehi after him (cf. Rom. 6:22 cf. Rom. 8:1, 28-39)? Is it personal acknowledgment of Alma’s prophesy that the Nephites will be destroyed and of his personal desire to deliver the Nephites from the evil the Lord has brought upon them as punishment for their backsliding ways? Why does Moroni resist the ordinance of God which is that the Lamanites will scourge the Nephites in their iniquities (D&C 98:30-31 cf. Lev. 10:6 cf. 2 Sam. 1:11 cf. 2 Kings 5:6-8 cf. 2 Kings 22:19 cf. Jonas 3:5-10 cf. Acts 14)? Does not the scourging fulfill two purposes? 1. To destroy the wicked who resist and 2. To condemn the powers whose scourging is itself evil (Alma 61:12-13 cf. D&C 58:22; 64:7-12, 21 cf. Matt. 22:21 cf. 2 Ne. 9:5 cf. John 12:47 cf. 1 Pet. 2:18 cf. D&C 63:25-37; 98:16, 30 – The Law of the Gospel requires a Saint to be subject to the Lord’s enemies, thereby, through patience, love, forgiveness and missionary work, some of the wicked may be saved before the judgment day of the Lord’s coming)?
Moroni’s desire to take up the sword in anger may have been the result of a belief that the missionary effort was a lost cause, either to the conversion of the Lamanites or the repentance of the Nephites (Alma 61:14). In the Bible Dictionary under “Law of Moses,” it states that the Law of Moses is given to those who fail to live the law of the gospel and who have a lower spiritual capacity. Is this why Captain Moroni is a zealous enforcer of the law? Did he give up on the missionary effort to become a conqueror of his enemies because he had a lower spiritual capacity? Was Moroni appointed by the Nephites to strictly enforce the law because as a people their spiritual capacity had degenerated much? In any event, Alma 45:21 states that as a result of wars with the Lamanites, the church had dwindled in disbelief and the Nephite nation became corrupt (and it may very well be the Nephite nation was corrupt prior to waging war, Alma 37:10; 50:21). There is much anger on both sides of these wars that truly the Lord spoke truth when he said: “Whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment”(Matt. 5:22). While Moroni nearly loses his life in zealous defense of liberty, it does not seem he would risk his life for the sake of proclaiming the gospel. While the Law of the Gospel had not yet been preached to the Nephites (Eph. 2:3; 4:31-32 cf. 1 Th. 5:9 cf. James 1:20), there are many covenanted today who believe its observance is meant for a future millennial date. A millennial date when no enemies exist for which a coat can be given because a cloak is not sued at law, for which a second mile can be walked because conscription does not exist, for which the other cheek can be turned because the former cheek is not smitten. If the Law of the Gospel is not intended to get us to the millennium, what use is it to the Saint after having utterly destroyed his enemies?
Beginning in Chapter 62, Helaman and his supporters attempt to reclaim the Nephites after Moroni’s war with the Lamanites, but the Nephites have become too wicked. Due to the wickedness of the Nephites, the Ammonites and many righteous Nephites flee northward (Chapter 63). Wars increase as do conspiracies among the Nephites until even more Nephites flee northward (Helaman 3). Nephite defeats in battle are attributed to their growing wickedness in Helaman 4. Nephi and Lehi abandon the judgment seat to “do that which is good” in Chapter 5 versus 7 and 8: To proclaim the word of God. The Lamanites imprison them, but because they are “doing that which is good,” they are delivered by miracle. Moroni wages war according to “his desires” because he thought it “expedient” to do so (Alma 43:30-33). Nephi and Lehi forsake war in the tradition of Alma the Elder who left the judgment seat to proclaim the gospel (1 Cor. 6:12, just because it is lawful does not mean it is expedient). Expediency for Nephi and Lehi is to leave the judgment seat of the people to become “servants” of the Lord whom He sends “to declare good tidings” (Helaman 5:29 cf. Rom. 6:16). As servants of the Lord, and not of the people, Nephi and Lehi are delivered by miracles than having to deliver themselves by their own power and means. Nephi and Lehi are successful among the Lamanites and it is they, the Lamanites, who are now the righteous. In Chapter 6, the Lamanites cease to be conquerors of their brethren, but seek to preach peace and the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Nephites (compare with Jacob 7:24-25 where the Nephites give up on the missionary effort to become “conquerors of their enemies”).
A prophet is called among the Lamanites and his name is Samuel. As the Nephites become more and more wicked, Samuel prophesies the destruction of the Nephites at the hands of their enemies (Helaman 13:9-10). As a result of their present righteousness, the Lord promises not to destroy the Lamanites and to be merciful unto them in the latter days (Chapter 15). Having learned each as strategy in war, drunkeness, lying, and deception increases among the Nephites even amidst signs of Christ’s coming (3 Nephi 1). A conspiracy gains control of the government and the Nephites gather in their defense of liberty (Chapter 2). The Nephites are successful in overthrowing the conspiracy and decide to thank the Lord by repenting of their wickedness (Chapter 5). The Nephites prosper but are corrupted by their prosperity. Another conspiracy overthrows the government (Chapter 6) and the Nephites break up into three groups: 1) The church, 2) King-men and 3) tribalists. The tribalists chase the king-men out of the land and set up a natural order of law among themselves. They live in peace, but have no faith in God. The church sends missionaries unto the tribalists, but they, like Sherem, are zealots for law and reject the missionaries (Chapter 7). Many Nephite cities are destroyed at the Lord’s coming including the city of Moroni, named after Captain Moroni. Those Nephites and Lamanites who kick not against the pricks and abandon the Law of Moses to embrace the Law of the Gospel remain to attend upon the Lord (Chapter 8).
Christ ministers among the survivors and then leaves. They live in peace for over two hundred years without any civil or military leadership before apostatizing. The fallen Christians set up a government and give it power to persecute the Church of Christ. These fallen Christians call themselves Lamanites and throw the righteous into prison (4 Nephi 1). The righteous begin to call themselves the Nephites and begin to apostatize. Wars grow among the Nephites and Lamanites. The Lamanites are too powerful and the Lord has withdrawn his protection from the Nephites because of their failure to keep the gospel covenant. The Nephites become blood thirsty from war and suffer many defeats. Mormon steps down as military commander but is forbidden by the Lord from proclaiming the gospel of peace (Mormon 3:11). The Lord leaves the wicked Nephites to be destroyed by the wicked Lamanites. Just as the Israelites had defied the will of God and laid waste to the land of Canaan (Deut. 3:6), so too did the Lamanites utterly destroy the Nephites from off the face of the earth (Mormon 6). The destruction of the Jaredites many centuries before is recounted in the book of Ether as a similitude of the destruction of the Nephites. Instead of living as subjects to heathen powers and nations, the Jaredites, many Israelites and Nephites chose death at the hands of their enemies. They refused to accept the counsel of Jeremiah 27:4-11 and fought to the death in their zeal for liberty. Had the Nephites been more righteous, the word of the Lord might not have been forbidden them (Mormon 1:16-17) and they would have come to understand that the Lord permits the wicked to prevail against the righteous that through subjection the righteous can live to save the wicked who rule over them by preaching the gospel of peace (Alma 26:26 cf. D&C 64:21).
1 Peter 3 is instructive at this point. It is better to suffer the sins of the unjust and wicked in patience than to return the evil that the unjust bring upon the righteous. This gives more light on the Christus Victor view of atonement. The righteous are not called to fight against flesh and blood, but to wage a battle against the spiritual evil in this world (Eph. 6:12). It is better to be subject to evil than to resist it. The law or ordinance of God empowers the wicked with a claim upon the wicked. Those who reject Christ go to law against each other. The wicked seek not to be justified by faith rather by law. To resist evil through means other than the sword of the spirit will bring death and destruction just as it did to the Jaredites, Nephites, and the Israelites in 70 AD at Jerusalem. The wicked will never be erased from off the face of the earth unless the Lord does it. However, the Lord refused to be king of a people whose only desire was to destroy the wicked who oppressed them. The Lord came not to destroy the wicked, but to save them. War is not the Lord’s way to peace (D&C 63:24-34). War is the way to death and destruction for those who would call themselves “righteous” (Rev. 13:10 cf. Matt. 7:2 cf. Matt. 26:52 cf. Rev. 3:10 cf. Lam. 3:26 cf. Prov. 16:32 cf. Luke 18:1-8; 21:19 cf. Heb. 12 cf. James 5:7-8). Missionary work is the Lord’s way to peace (Matt. 5:39 cf. Luke 21:5 cf. Acts 6:10 cf. Rev. 12:11 cf. D&C 98:16). The hour of His judgment is coming, just as it came for the Nephites and the Jaredites.
Based on the synopsis I have given of the Book of Mormon, I have learned the following lessons:
Tribulation comes as a result of wickedness. The Lord withdraws His protection, leaving His people to deliver themselves from destruction by their own power and means. Those who do not repent are eventually destroyed by the wicked. Like the Ammonites and other Nephite righteous who escaped northward from the fields of battle, the Saints who remain patient with sinners, while remaining intolerant of sin in their personal lives (Eph. 4:26 cf. Prov. 14:29; 19:11 cf. Ecc. 7:9), will be delivered by miracle. These are they who know what it means to have power in the priesthood to the convincing of men. The righteous are raptured from conflict and tribulation. The righteous have no need to fear death at the hands of the wicked for it serves God’s purposes: To extend mercy through missionary effort and repentance, while the wicked are yet in their mortal probation, and to judge righteous judgment in the life to come for personal acts committed while in mortal flesh (Alma 14:11 cf. Alma 60:11-15). Alma Jr. refrains from protecting the innocent from the wicked, just as the Lord withdraws His protection and leaves the Nephites to deliver themselves from destruction by their own power and means. Whether it is the patience, neglect, indifference or tolerance of others, zealots for liberty are angry with those who choose peace over war. They threaten temporal death and eternal damnation for those they believe could do something about saving the innocent, either by wielding the sword of the flesh or by calling down fire from heaven, but who refrain from doing so. The zealot’s resistance of evil brought upon the innocent the very death and destruction they hoped to prevent by resisting. We learn this from the Desolation of Abomination in 70 AD at Jerusalem and the many times the Jews were scattered across Eurasia. We learn this from the record of the Jaredites and of the Nephites (Rev. 11:18 cf. 12:12). We learn from the example of Alma the Elder, prophesy of Jeremiah, and teachings of Jesus that the best way to save life is not to resist evil, rather to give place unto wrath, proclaim the gospel of peace (2 Cor. 5:19), and to wait patiently upon the Lord for His deliverance (Rom. 12:19-21).
Don’t get me wrong, if I had to choose between a Captain Moroni and defensive wars or a King David and offensive war, I think I would say that Captain Moroni’s wars were the lesser of two evils. Captain Moroni sought to tear down the power, whereas King David ingratiated himself with power. Captain Moroni reminds me of those Israelites that revolted against King David and the Romans (Alma 60:27 – Captain Moroni does not believe that inciting riot and insurrection to be usurpation of power or authority, cf. D&C 134:5. Alma 60:33 – Captain Moroni desires to carry out political assassinations and cause insurrections against the Nephite government. 2 Chron. 10:19 – The religious leaders, with the help of the judges, seek to set up a king. Israelites zealous for freedom rebel against the House of David ever after). Captain Moroni kept the covenant given him and, in a sense, admitted his lower spirituality (Prov. 10:29 cf. Matt. 7:23). By destroying his enemies and those who did not live up to his standards, he admitted his own inability to remain in the world without becoming like the world. Therefore, the world had to be cleansed and all opposition destroyed.
Confession under duress was good enough for Captain Moroni. But should it be for Disciples of Christ? In Joshua 24:15 we read, “me and my house…serve the Lord,” meaning a disciple will follow the example of Alma the Elder, of Christ, the sons of Mosiah, and of Helaman (Nephi and Lehi). These are they who could live in the world and not be of the world exactly because their spirituality was greater. They did not fear living in the world because they were confident that they would never be of the world. They did not envy the wicked. They had no disposition to do evil. There was no need to destroy the world, because their spirituality made saving the world possible. Maybe we should be like Captain Moroni, at least in the sense of being zealous in our personal righteousness. We should wield the sword of the Spirit just as zealously as Captain Moroni wielded the sword of death. If we kept our covenant to live the Law of the Gospel as zealously as Captain Moroni kept his covenant to enforce the Law of Moses, then the powers of hell would truly be shaken. And so it was in the beginning: The Lord sent forth missionaries to teach the plan of salvation (Moses 5:4-10). Being inspired, Adam went forth and preached the plan of salvation (Moses 6:23). After many years of lower spirituality and the Law of Moses, Christ teaches the plan of salvation and sends those who will be like Him to do the same (2 Cor. 5:19). The Law of the Gospel is truly a higher law requiring a higher spirituality (Matt. 16:25 – The zealous defense of liberty leads to death. The zealous proclamation of the gospel leads to life eternal).